Most people have heard of muscle memory. It’s our body’s way of learning repeated actions so deeply that we can react or move with little or no thought. A trained soccer player doesn’t have to analyze every kick. The player instinctively knows the optimal way to impact the ball and send it in the right direction. Bigger game strategies are worked out, but the instinctive reactions during a game flow from thousands of hours of dedicated, consistent practice. We do this every day with actions that we repeat over and over again: brushing our teeth, starting our car, etc. Whenever we drive somewhere daily and automatically take the same route without thinking about it, it’s muscle memory in action.
Studies show that to create a habit takes about 30 days. The longer we do anything consistently in our lives, the patterns build, and it’s easier to continue those patterns. If you’re quitting smoking the first few days can be gruesome, but eventually, after a few weeks, it becomes easier. If we’re starting an exercise program, those first few days can be hard, but if we keep at it for four weeks, six weeks, eight weeks it becomes ingrained and a regular part of our lives. That’s not saying that we won’t occasionally slip up, but the slip-ups become less frequent if we’re consistent with any habit over time.
So how does this apply to our spiritual walk? It’s important to evaluate our spiritual muscle memory. How do we immediately react to whatever situation comes up? When we suffer a loss in our life, do we react with anger? Or do we trust that God sees a bigger picture? When we feel we’ve been wronged by another person, do we lash out? Or do we forgive, seek to heal, and have grace for others? When we encounter someone in need, do we seek how to help? Or do we avoid eye contact and move on with our lives? Our first reaction to any situation is a good indication of our spiritual health and an example of our spiritual muscle memory in action.
We need to develop and train our spiritual, service muscle memory daily. Only with ongoing, faithful practice of healthy spiritual reactions will we grow in the perfect image of Christ. We need to embrace good service habits and allow them to grow into muscle memory.
One of the many attributes of Christ is service. Jesus spent the bulk of his time focused on those around Him. He spent His time healing, teaching, encouraging, feeding, blessing whenever He came into contact with others. During the last supper, the last night he had with the apostles, Jesus could have taught on anything. He chose foot washing, an example of service with profound symbolism at that time; it was the lowest servants who would perform this act for others. Jesus felt it was important to close out his training with the apostles by giving them this deep, powerful example of service. If we call ourselves a “follower of Christ,” and we are not actively, humbly, serving others in our day-to-day lives, we are hypocrites.
So how do we develop our service muscle memory? Practice, practice, practice. Service doesn’t have to be a huge, dramatic, sacrificial act. We are given thousands of opportunities every day to serve others if we keep our eyes open to them. A kind word to a stranger in a store, providing an open ear to somebody going through difficulties, just sending someone an encouraging message on Facebook, these are all acts of service. Jesus always had His eyes open to those hurting and in need around Him. Daily service to others should be our goal also.
A few years ago my wife and I were traveling on a missions trip to a very small, impoverished country in the middle of Africa. We landed in the tiny rundown airport and inside we faced an overwhelming crush of humanity. We had been warned beforehand to avoid “the people in the orange vests” who would try to grab our luggage to help us move it to the taxis to get tips. After collecting our team and luggage, I turned around, and my wife was gone. After what seemed like a long time, and me having a mild panic attack, I see my wife walking out of the restroom arm in arm with a frail teenage girl wearing an orange vest. My wife had gone to use the restroom and shared a kind word with this girl she noticed at the counter. This young girl needed those words, at that moment in her life. My wife’s service muscle memory kicked in, and she reached out to this girl in need. She didn’t cure cancer, she didn’t end world hunger, but she shared an example of Christ’s love to a scared teenage girl.
Who can you serve today? Go and practice that service muscle memory. Let your life follow in that perfect example of service we see in Jesus Christ.
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