Today is Friday the 13th. Does that make you nervous? Did you glance anxiously over your shoulder on your way in to work this morning? Carefully avoid stepping on sidewalk cracks or walking under ladders?
Probably not. I’ve never met anyone who took Friday the 13th, or any of those thousands of other little superstitions, seriously (although it’s interesting how long they’ve stuck around, given that few people give them any credence). Americans, and Christians in particular, aren’t a superstitious lot… or are they?
This morning, I took stock of my life to see if anything I did could be called “superstitious.” And I was surprised to realize that in fact, I often act on what you might call “Christian superstitions.”
By “Christian superstitions,” I mean spiritual activities performed not because they contribute to my life as a Christian, but out of fear, routine, or a sense of obligation. When I do “Christian activities” mindlessly, out of guilt, or “just because I’m supposed to,” those activities become little more than dumb superstitions. Here are a few examples from my life:
How often have I mumbled the same old prayer before meals without giving any thought to what I was saying? Surely, a prayer in which I am not even paying attention to the words has no value at all. How often have I gone to church on Sunday morning out of a sense of “Christian obligation” rather than a desire to worship? If I’ve just spent an hour sitting in the church pew daydreaming about the latest Batman movie or worrying about work, I’ve just wasted an hour of my life on a pointless activity. How often have I dropped money in the offering plate at church because I’m expected to, and not because I want to gratefully give back to God? I may be helping the Kingdom of God financially, but the activity is robbed of any of the spiritual import it’s meant to have. If I give of my time or money for no other reason than “that’s what Christians are supposed to do” or out of a vague sense of guilt, that’s just empty superstition.
As you can see, I can be quite good at taking praiseworthy spiritual activities and turning them into meaningless religious routine. I don’t think that’s much more useful than avoiding black cats on Friday the 13th.
What about you? Every Christian must struggle at some point with the challenge of keeping our daily and weekly spiritual activities from becoming empty routine. How do you stay on guard against this tendency toward superstition?