"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Routines, Rote Prayers & Heuristic Bias

From Wild Goose Chase

In this section Mark deals with the key to spiritual growth being our development of "healthy and holy routines" or spiritual disciplines. He suggests that once the routine becomes a routine, we need to disrupt it. Why? "Because sacred routines become empty rituals when we do them out of left-brain memory instead of right-brain imagination. ... One of the greatest dangers we face spiritually is learning how and forgetting why."

The "tendency to think the way we've always thought or do it the way we've always done it is called heuristic bias. It is an incredibly complex cognitive process, but the end result is mindlessness. We do things without thinking about them. And if we aren't careful, we pray without thinking, take Communion without thinking, and worship without thinking." (pg. 59)

After quoting this verse:

13 And so the Lord says,
“These people say they are mine.
They honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
And their worship of me
is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote. (Isaiah 29, NLT)

Mark says, "God doesn't want to be lip-synced. He wants to be worshiped." He reminds us that the psalms "exhort us no fewer than six times to sing a new song. We need new words, new postures, new thoughts and new feelings. Why? Because God wants to be more than a memory!"

Also Jesus put it this way:

7 “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again." (Matthew 6, NLT)

What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you agree that praying the same words over and over can make it mindless worship? Do you agree that new words, postures, songs and feelings are needed? Why or why not?


Wrestling With Religion said...

Interesting... I'm not sure. I think a certain amount of routine is good but also a certain amount of spontaneity. Sitting on the fence, lol.

With the Islamic prayer I found it became routine quite quickly, but I think when people learn more Suras and duas they can mix it up a bit. I also found 5 times a day too much, maybe just because it's winter and they were too close together, but I felt it became more routine because of how frequently I had to do it. I would prefer two or three times of concentrated quality prayer time.

Suroor said...

I'm not a routine person. And it isn't natural. The Sun rises everyday which is a natural routine but its timings change, which is how I see the routine is "disrupted."

I think prayer is very important but seriously, it shouldn't get 'boring', a 'ritual' and too much. I don't understand something in which my heart is not present.

I remember Al -Ghazali. He wrote extensively on how one hsould worship saying even early Muslims struggles with routine prayer. He praises prayer made from the heart. Unfortunately if you need a manual for it, then it isn't that easy and if it isn't so easy to enjoy prayer than what's the use?

I run everyday. When it becomes a routine or I don't feeling like running, I don't. Or instead I skip rope or ride the bike. But if I MUST only run and am only allowed to use the choice of varying the speed and incline levels, chances are I won't enjoy it after a while.

Thanks for this post! You made me think clearly about something for the first time in my life. God bless you, S and I thank the Lord for bringing you in my life.

Amber said...


Well, on a personal level, I love routine. Just...in my life in general. I have a pattern, you could almost 'set your watch' by me in many respects. But I'm a person who feels the need for structure. So I don't view the having of a routine, or a set schedule, or whatever as being inherently bad. Of course, when you *cannot* break out, you *cannot* deviate, that's when you have a problem. (Assuming we're not talking about maintenance of, for instance, a nuclear power plant or something...in which case, you *cannot* deviate, and don't you even dare think about it buddy!)

I recall most people, when they bring up the whole, 'rote prayer' thing, are typically referring back to the 'set' prayers, the Our Father, Hail Mary, etc. etc. Saying that people who recite these are doing wrong because the words aren't spontaneous or from the heart. I don't fall for that, because *anything* can become rote, if you're not paying attention to it, not putting your whole being into it. Now, that's not to say that we shouldn't feel able to just rattle off whatever comes into our minds as a prayer, of course. Just that saying a certain historic prayer, repeatedly, does not necessarily make it fruitless. It's all about you, and what you're putting into the prayer, no matter what the words.

Susanne said...

Sarah, yes, some routine is fine. In fact Mark urges us to keep our routine of showering, brushing our teeth and wearing deodorant. :) He is talking more of worship and going through the motions of it rather than TRULY worshiping God. Reread that verse quoted in the post about the people honoring God with their lips, but their hearts being far from Him. Seriously how many religious people are there who will pray and bless God and SAY all sorts of spiritual words then go out and DO things that dishonor God? God wants heart worship, not rote words that have become meaningless. That's how I see what Mark is saying *and* what God is saying in Isaiah. That said, I totally understand what you mean about sitting on the fence. :) Thanks for the examples that you shared. I'd rather people pray to God because they wanted to fellowship with Him and seek His direction and praise Him. NOT because they were "required" to do so. Do you like your children to talk to you because it is *required* or because they love you and want to fellowship with you and seek your advice? I prefer the latter kind of relationship. It makes me feel loved rather than like I'm an obligation.

Suroor, I'm glad God brought you here as well. I have learned so much from you, Sarah, Amber and all who share here from time to time.

Thanks for the examples you gave about the sun and also your own exercise routines. I love what you said about needing a manual to pray. I can see where certain prayers are helpful perhaps for new believers who want a "model" for how to pray, but again, I go back to the example of parents and children. Do you want your daughter to come to you daily with a memorized rote talk or do you want to hear her thoughts for the day, the dreams she has for the future, the struggles she had that day and the love she feels for you? I think you'd much prefer her candid, heart-felt words than someone else's words. That's just how I see it. I think God wants our genuine worship rather than our coming to Him out of some requirement. "Well, better go spend time with God now so I can mark that off my to-do list." I'd rather you not talk to me if you feel I am just another obligation on your list.

Amber, I promise Mark isn't bashing *anyone* for their prayer routines. He's just making a generalized statement that the TENDENCY is there that repeated things can become "mindless." And the key word there is "CAN." If you go to each prayer and mean it from your heart, no problem. He was speaking to the vast majority of us who start going through the motions of worship rather than truly worshiping God from our hearts.

And as I mentioned above, all routines aren't bad. It was just more of a challenge for us to not get in a rut and not allowing God to shake things up a bit if He chooses. :)

Thanks for all that you ladies shared. Truly enjoyed it all!

Susanne said...

One last thing. Actually Mark gave the example of songs more than prayers. He sited a study that said people stop thinking about the lyrics after about 30 times of hearing a song. I can attest to mindlessly singing songs and then suddenly realizing 'what am I saying here?' when I realize what the song is talking about. I just started singing along out of habit, not really thinking of the words.

Last summer we were at the beach and I heard these young people singing about wanting to be a rockstar. The juke box was playing the song loudly and I was like they are singing about doing drugs and easy women and they are preteens. Do they not realize what they are saying? Likely not. They were just singing along to a song with a cool beat.

So it's more that type of routine. Where you are just mouthing words and not "involved" in them for lack of a better word.

Hope that makes sense. :)