Basic training taught me to shine my shoes.
I will admit it was not my favorite task or even one where I excelled. I marveled at other people’s ability to make their low quarters shine while I slowly began to doubt my ability, thinking I was clueless and lacked coordination. And I certainly tried various tricks and shortcuts, but nothing seemed to work. Every open ranks inspection revealed I fell short of the standard. Corframs were of course the ultimate short cut since they required very little effort, but corframs defeated the process of developing a habit.
Basic training taught us habits through instruction and constant repetition. The goal was to graduate being comfortable with the fundamentals of marching, uniform upkeep, and customs and courtesies. We don’t have to consciously think about those tasks anymore because they are now as natural as breathing. They have become ingrained.
Behaviors As Habit
Jesus takes this principle to another level. “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:43–45).
Our behaviors in many ways are automatic. We don’t think about much of what we do. Some psychologists say we consciously think only 5% of the time. What we eat, say, and do are done at very automatic levels.
How? Practice. Practice. And more practice.
Jesus declares that the heart is the origin of our behaviors and behaviors practiced over time become habits. We can all put on our best behavior from time to time (like during an inspection or when family comes to visit), but sooner or later our true self comes out. In a way, trying to fake good habits is like wearing corframs. They look good, but they are only imitating the real thing.
Developing Good Behavior
How do we develop good habits? Just like we learn to shine shoes. We are taught, we reflect, and we practice, practice, practice.
Start by thinking through what we are being taught. Unfortunately, most of what we learn comes from social media and the TV. These sources are not morally neutral and have an agenda that does not always square with God’s ways. Contrast social media with the Word of God. It’s the only living and active source of knowledge and it comes from God (Hebrews 4:12). Now I know we can’t read our Bible 24 hours a day, but we can let it become the open ranks inspector of a world that offers cheap imitations to God’s ways.
Next, spend time reflecting on all that we are learning—the good and the bad. Again, scrolling through social media and watching TV do not give us time to reflect. For that we need consistent alone and quiet time. We need to be able to think hard about what we are learning.
Finally, comes the practice. And practice is not easy! Any time we learn a new skill like shining shoes, it will be awkward, painful, and time-consuming. But the more we do these things, the more automatic they become.
So, what are you practicing? Are you more proficient at Facebook, Fortnite, and following YouTube stars than at understanding the Bible? Are you more effective at your workplace than in obeying what God says in His Word?
Change is never easy. It starts with a commitment, a community to guide and provide accountability, and lots of practice. Basic Training capitalized on these concepts so maybe it’s time for a Biblical boot camp?