James K.A. Smith in his book You Are What You Love. According to Smith, love is “a baseline inclination” of the heart (16). All people love something at the core of their being. Not only is love at the core of who people are; love is a virtue. And “virtues, quite simply, are good moral habits” (16). We can see evidence of virtues when Christ-like characteristics become “second nature” (17).
So how do we grow in Christ and acquire such virtues (17)? First, we acquire virtues through imitation. We see what others do, and then follow their example. Second, we practice the virtues (18). This understanding of the virtues also comports well with Tim Keller’s view of love in his book, The Meaning of Marriage. Keller writes, “You can change your heart over the long haul through your actions” (106). We grow in love by loving–by actually doing acts of love–not merely by “feeling” in love. Keller argues for a distinction between feelings and actions (105). God commands us to love our neighbors, which means we must act with love towards them.
Love is a habit, which takes practice to develop. How do we develop this godly habit of love? Smith’s answer: worship (22-23). As we worship, what we love changes. Naturally, this leads to the question: What is the practice of worship? “Liturgy” is Smith’s answer.
In competition with a God-ordained liturgy, Smith shows rival “liturgies” are practiced in the wider culture. For example, going to the mall does something to us! The mall is not a neutral place, but actually seeking to influence us in certain ways. How then do we displace the counter liturgies of the world which lure us and train us?
We must practice liturgy (61). It means connecting to a covenantal community (i.e. the church). Second, we must commit to practices that we won’t naturally want to do (62). (We must be committed “spiritual disciplines” to use a concept from Dallas Willard). Smith advocates for both individual disciplines and corporate disciplines: “I want to supplement [Dallas] Willard’s emphasis on the individual practices of the spiritual disciplines with what might be a counterintuitive thesis in our ‘millennial’ moment: that the most potent, charged, transformative site of the Spirit’s work is found in the most unlikely of places—the church!” (68). To quote Craig Dykstra, “The life of Christian faith is the practice of many practices” (68).
What practices constitute the “means of grace” or spiritual disciplines?
- The Word
- Sacraments (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper)
Worship reforms our loves. Proper worship must “properly liturgical.” Although the Protestant Reformers often wrote against liturgy because of its association with Roman Catholicism, Smith writes that, “The problem was not liturgy per se, but disordered liturgies” (69). The Reformers criticized man-centered liturgies. Man-centered liturgies emphasized people’s actions. Through their actions, people were taught they could earn God’s favor. God-centered liturgies are different: “Christian worship is nothing less than an invitation to participate in the life of the Triune God” (70).
Since worship forms them, Christians need to be conscious and intentional about forms of worship. If we unhook worship from mere expressionism, it would change the way we view repetition. If worship is primarily about “expressing yourself,” then you won’t want to repeat the same songs, or practices. Doing so will be insincere or inauthentic to you. However, if worship is really an encounter with God who reshapes your deepest habits (loves), then repetition is a good thing. It’s the way that God changes our habits. When viewed this way, repetition isn’t insincere. You’re submitting to God and allowing Him to change you. There is no growth “without practice and no practice without repetition.” (80).
It is thoughtful and intentional practice which changes us. Take a golf swing. You could go out to the golf course and just swing a golf club. But you would develop a bad habit. To change into being a good golf player, you would need to think and be intentional about changing your swing. After time, you would have to think less as your swings would be instinctual. Growing as a golfer would mean continuing to practice your swing and becoming more conscious of other areas in need of improvement. You form your habits; then your habits form you.