As Was His Custom
by the late Rev. Richard Tafel
Former minister of the Swedenborgian Church in Philadelphia
and the founding editor of Our Daily Bread
In the March, 1995 Issue of Our Daily Bread

The Bible is unique in saying so much by saying so little. In the midst of the stupendous story of creation in Genesis, there is tucked away a little verse that might appear almost an after thought. It is said that God made the sun and the moon and further on toward the end, "and He made the stars also." The shortest verse in the whole Bible, only two words, reveals the depths of human nature of our Lord that comes to us otherwise only as we grasp the meaning of all the gospels together - "Jesus wept." What volumes of thought and insight are expressed by these two words!

And in the fourth chapter of the gospel of Luke is another of these beautiful little gems - a miniature picture that gives insight into truth that is as large as Life itself. It comes after the spectacular forty days' temptation of our Lord in the wilderness.

Our Lord comes to His home in Nazareth. "And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath Day, and stood up to read."

Notice "And as His custom was"; it is almost concealed in its great surroundings. It is given to us this way on purpose - to make us look for important and valuable truths in the small, everyday happenings of life. Here is expressed in so many words our Lord's secret of success in showing to the world the Perfect Life. It was an habitual opening up to the forces of good, giving play to heavenly forces in a human life. Palm Sunday, the crucifixion, Easter, and the resurrection were made possible by a life in which good was ever given free rein - "As His custom was."

We know in our own lives, from our own experiences, the power that habit has upon us. It is almost trite to speak of the "force of habit." But too often we restrict our thinking to the power of bad habits; the hold our appetites have upon us, our selfish indulgences, our weaknesses, our failures, our sins. Any one of us could name at least half a dozen habits we have that are standing in our way to better living.

And we know that their hold upon us increases, if we don't break their stranglehold. Our vanity, pride, greed, putting ourselves first, breaking the Commandments - it becomes harder and harder to conquer these habits of ours.

Because as a river that ceaselessly runs over hard rock cuts a deepening channel, these habitual actions of ours cut a pathway in our minds and hearts through which the course of our lives rush.

These channels are dug out in us at first unconsciously or thoughtlessly. We drift into certain ways of thinking, and feeling, and acting. When we come to a point where we notice them - and by the merciful love of our Lord they are brought to our attention - they are already well-formed.

Now the Lord God, the Master of Real Living, knowing so well our frame and the set of the human mind and heart - knowing it so well for having become man - asks us to change the direction of these watercourses of our personality. He not only asks, but has shown us through His life here, how it can be done. One of his prerequisites for our inheriting the Kingdom of Heaven - life fuller, happier, the real life - is changing our habits, the way we act.

There are consequences to letting habits go unchecked - not only to ourselves, but in passing them on to our children and to the world, and in carrying them with us to the spiritual world. For it is our habits, our accustomed ways of thinking and feeling and acting, that go with us into the other life. On our souls we are cutting deeper and deeper lines of conduct, and ways of living, that if unchanged, are the ways we are going to live forever.

Superficial things vanish - ideals, promises, hopes, Our habits of life alone stay with us. "Habit" is literally what we have - what we have and hold as our own, what we have made a part of ourselves by frequent repetition. Imagining ourselves in the future life, we don't like to think of it in this way - it is too realistic. But the Bible, above all else, is realistic. "As the tree falls, so shall it lie" - or more exactly, "In the place where the tree falleth, there is shall lie." It is habit, repeating over and over again - thoughts, desires, and actions - that creates an habitual pattern in our mind and heart - the personality that is the "we" forever.

But the Bible, being as we said realistic, does not leave us with a hopeless picture of ourselves and our future. The whole point of this insight into the way our Lord lived - "as was His custom" is that good habits are just as strong and lasting as bad ones.

And thinking of our text, of our Lord, and of this insight into His life, we must necessarily for the time being focus our attention on the power of doing good, and thinking straight in our lives. Our Lord does not want us to do good just on occasion. Our Lord would have us make these habitual, accustomed actions, until we do them unthinkingly; without effort - until they become "habit."

Religion in us does not start with a clean slate; we are already warped. But if we would concentrate on setting up good habits in our lives, the other channels that have been cut deeply into us by bad habits would become dry river-beds, no longer used. They become short-circuited, and life runs in the new channels.

As we look from Ash Wednesday to Palm Sunday, and to Passion Week with its crucifixion and Resurrection, it should awaken a renewed determination in us to let that Great Love have its way in us, and turn us to our Glorified Christ-God - the habit of turning to the Lord and His Holy Word. Let it teach us of the way, its commandments, of love for one another that is greater than love of ourselves, of a love that seeks out others, not ourselves. The habit of trusting in God - not in our ideas and plans and world-weary worries.

We can change the course of our current of life, by setting up these new and better channels of responses to His life and love, and turn to Him, first by conscious, habitual practice, until we are borne along on its current by His overpowering love.

Scripture:

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'"

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, 'He will command His angels concerning you, to protect you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'"

Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" When the devil had finished every test, he departed from Him until an opportune time.

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about Him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up, He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was His custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

And He rolled up the scroll, gave it back tot he attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. Then He began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

Luke 4:9-21

Reading from Swedenborg:

Truth is in this respect like everything else that is implanted in us from childhood, namely, that it does not become our own until we act according to it, and this from affection, in which case our will becomes imbued with it, and it is then no longer brought into act from memory-knowledge or doctrine, but from a certain delight that is unknown to us; and as it were from our disposition or nature; for every one acquires such a nature by frequent use or habit, and this from the things which one has learned. Therefore conjunction with truths cannot take place with a person until those things which one has learned by means of doctrines have been insinuated from the external personal into the interior. When they are in the interior person, the person no longer acts from the memory, but from his own nature, until at last the things thus insinuated flow spontaneously into act, being inscribed on the person's interior memory; and that which comes forth from this, appears as if it were innate. Hence it is manifest that truths of doctrine, even those which are interior, are not conjoined with a person until they are of the life. 

Arcana Coelestia (Heavenly Secrets) #3843

 

The painting is The Alpha And Omega 
by artist Greg Olsen  and used with his permission.

Music: Fragments of My Soul
1999 Bruce DeBoer