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Topic: Flourishing

When Routines Become Idols

October 22, 2015

From the moment we are born, our lives center around our daily routines. We rise with the sun and sleep when it sets. We work during the week and rest on the weekend. Our bellies are quick to tell us when we miss one of our thrice daily meals. We attend school during the fall, winter, and spring, and play all summer. We celebrate the same holidays year after year.

God created routines when he set the sun and moon in space. He organized our week by giving us a day of rest. He even provided the Israelites with yearly festivals, celebrations, and remembrances.

Pediatricians tell us that children thrive and feel safe when they have routines and structure to their day. Routines are good for us as adults as well. They keep us on track and organized. They give shape to our day and keep us from getting distracted. Indeed, routines are good. But routines can sometimes turn from a good thing to a not so good thing: when they become an idol of our heart.

A Routine Idol

John Calvin said our hearts are idol making factories. We are constantly looking for things to worship rather than God. Even the good things God has given us can be turned into an idol that we put in first place in our heart. As Tim Keller writes, “The greater the good, the more likely we are to expect that it can satisfy our deepest needs and hopes. Anything can serve as a counterfeit god, especially the very best things in life.” [1]

Some of us are so attached to and defined by our routines that we can’t stand when they are interrupted, changed, or tampered with in any way. That’s because of what our routines represent to us. Comfort. Ease. Control. Peace. When we trust in our routines and cling to them, we are relying on them to give us comfort. We are putting our hope in them to make our life smooth and carefree. We are seeking to find peace in something apart from Christ.

Our routines can also give us the illusion that we have control over our life, and as children of Adam we’d like nothing more than to have sovereign control over the details of our life. In so doing, we elevate our routines to savior status in our life. And this is idolatry.

When Routines are Disrupted

How do we know if our routines are an idol? The ways we respond to interruptions in our routines are a good indicator. If we have a strong emotional reaction or resistance to the disruption of our routines, it should give us pause to stop and consider whether our routines have turned from a good thing to a counterfeit god.

When routines are idols, we often put them before the needs of others. If we always run errands on a Tuesday morning and a friend calls in desperation, needing to talk, and we aren’t willing to put our plans aside to encourage our friend that might be an indicator that our routines are first place in our lives.

When routines are idols, we can also respond in fear, worry, and anger when they are interrupted. Let’s say that our child always takes a nap at the same time every day. But the appointment at the doctor’s office is going longer than expected. We start feeling anxious that the delay in schedule will ruin our whole day. We might even feel anger bubble up inside at the doctor for interfering with our schedule.

Or perhaps we’ve been given an extra responsibility to complete that doesn’t fit neatly into our schedule. If our routine is an idol, we might respond with irritation or anger, and may even refuse to complete the task.

Routines and Trusting God’s Plan

While routines are a good thing, life doesn’t always fall perfectly into place. Life in a fallen world is often unpredictable. Accidents happen, people get sick, someone in the Body of Christ needs us, and sometimes God simply has a better plan for our day. When it comes to our routines, the wisdom of God’s word tells us that “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). And as James says, “Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:15).

If you find that you cling too tightly to your routines, seek God in repentance. Pray for a heart that desires him above comfort, ease, and predictability. For as Tim Keller wrote, “Jesus must become more beautiful to your imagination, more attractive to your heart, than your idol. That is what will replace your counterfeit gods.” [2]

Let us make our plans and set our routines. But let us hold them loosely and cling instead to our only source of hope and peace, our Savior Jesus Christ.


[1] Keller, Tim. Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters. (New York: Dutton, 2009) p. xvii.

[2] Ibid, p. 172

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