LCN Article
Are Routines Stifling Our Goals?

January / February 2023

Gerald E. Weston

Routine is important. It is good to go to bed and get up at the same times each day, as this promotes better sleep and productivity during the day. Most people bathe and brush their teeth at the same times each day. Many have exercise routines, and it is good to block off set times and places each day for prayer and Bible study, as many of us do. Whether they regard sleep, hygiene practices, exercise, or prayer, good habits and routines are beneficial—even essential—to maintaining our physical and spiritual sides of life.

However, being stuck in routines that are outdated or not well thought out can also become traps. This can lull us to complacency and trap us in inefficiencies. Often, they are not thought out at all but are merely habits that we fell into. It has been reported that many people are in the habit of checking Facebook immediately after waking in the morning. This habit becomes their routine. The same thing can be said about watching too much television. Come home from work, turn on the television, catch the news during dinner—and watch it until you practically sleepwalk to your bed.

But routine can be a trap in another way, as well. Over time we tend to drive the same route to work or school, hardly thinking about it. It is automatic—routine. So much so that if starting out the same way for a different destination, we may find ourselves missing the turn to where we are going. I know this has happened to me.

In our John 3:16 booklet, I wrote of something closely related to this, something we might refer to as mental routine—memorization. “But memorization has a downside.… The problem with memorization is that, once we learn something, our brains stash it away and concentrate on something new. We can pull up that piece of information and recite it, but our ‘thinking cap’ has generally moved on to the next challenge” (p. 41). Routines, habits, memorization—they have an upside and a downside.

Challenging the Status Quo

This past November, I held a staff meeting for all our employees here in Charlotte as well as a few who work remotely. You may rest assured that we have a hardworking, dedicated staff here in Charlotte. I have even encouraged some of them to stop working such long hours and take care of family or personal needs. But sometimes we all become caught up in routines that have become obsolete over time as circumstances have changed. What worked well in the past may not work well today or in the future.

There was a time when our Church literature might take four to six weeks to arrive after someone ordered it. That may never have been ideal, but it was routine—not only for the Church, but in many businesses, and was acceptable a couple of decades ago. Today, people expect a requested item to arrive on their front porch the next day. One Church lady mentioned to me after the meeting that she had ordered a clothing iron the previous evening and it was on her doorstep sometime between 4:00 and 6:00 in the morning! Talk about service!

In this nearly instant-service environment, four to six weeks is not good enough. That is why I challenged everyone to review their routines, talk to other departments in the pipeline from receiving to sending out requests, and reach a goal to send out 95 percent of all requests on the next business day. I understood that this would not be easy, so I gave them an example of a “can do” attitude.

Find a Way or Make One

Back in 1973, the United States launched Skylab into orbit as a working laboratory for astronauts spending time in space. But once it was in orbit, observers saw that something had gone wrong. One or more solar panels had not deployed properly, compromising the power supply needed for astronauts to live in Skylab. With men set to launch into space within days, what could be done?

The United States Air Force had for years been using satellites to spy on the Soviet Union, using a camera with a powerful lens to take pictures. Every few days, a capsule from the satellite would be jettisoned over the Pacific Ocean, retrieved by planes trailing lines to snag the parachute in the air, landed in Hawaii, and the film put on a plane to reach Washington, DC, all within twelve hours.

All of that is, in itself, pretty amazing, but someone trying to solve the Skylab problem came up with the idea of doing something that had never been done before: Point the spy camera away from the earth and upward into space. By doing so, when the spy satellite and Skylab crossed paths, a picture could be taken and NASA engineers might discover what the problem was. The spy satellite was travelling roughly 18,000 miles an hour in a North-to-South orbit. Skylab was traveling at a similar speed East-to-West, so the timing was incredibly difficult. But the maneuver was successful and the Skylab problem was resolved.

Members of the Air Force squadron involved with the spy program each had a patch on their shoulder that read, “Aut viam inveniam aut faciam”—Latin for, “I will find a way, or I will make one.” Some say the Latin expression originated with Hannibal. “He is credited with this response when his generals told him it was impossible to cross the Alps, into Italy, by elephant during the Second Punic War (around 218 BC)” (“I Will Either Find a Way or Make One,”, September 23, 2016). More commonly, we may say something similar: “Where there is a will, there is a way.”

We are not Amazon, UPS, or FedEx. We do not have all the human resources they have, but I have little doubt that with an attitude of “We will find a way, or we will make one,” our staff can reach the goal toward which I challenged them. Ninety-five percent within one business day is only the first phase, as I hope we can do even better, but we will never get to 100 percent for a variety of technical reasons. For example, when people leave an apartment number off their address, or move without informing us, they end up with a “stop code” on their record because the Post Office returned a previous order. We must correct the address before we can send further literature. This is only one example of why we will never reach 100 percent.

We must also balance cost. For example, to send booklets bulk rate costs around 19 cents per booklet, but to get that rate we must send at least 200 booklets of the same weight at the same time. For First-Class mail, the cost is much higher, ranging from 81 cents to two dollars per booklet. We must balance these priorities: fast service, reasonable cost. One solution involves the size and weight of our booklets. In reviewing this subject, we found that our booklets came in 18 different weights. However, if we can narrow that number to three or four standard weights, we can bundle slower-moving booklets with faster-moving ones and reach the 200 minimum for the lower postal rate each business day.

The question, then, is how do we harmonize our booklet weights? In some cases, it has been a simple matter of increasing the weight—add a sheet (eight pages) or two. We did this with one of Dr. Meredith’s booklets by inserting chapter breaks where there had been none. This not only solved the weight problem without changing the content, but also made the booklet more palatable for most people, who tend to appreciate shorter chapters rather than one long treatise. For other booklets, it is a matter of removing some pictures or removing extraneous content that does not change the meaning—the latter being less desirable, but occasionally appropriate. To adjust my John 3:16 booklet, for example, Mr. Thomas White suggested removing two one-paragraph stories, and I approved that. Mr. John Robinson then changed the layout by deleting some pictures and removing a tiny space between the lines. This still does not bring it into weight-harmony with other booklets, but it will save considerable money because we got it below the 3.5-ounce threshold. We can, if needed, send it First-Class for less than the over-3.5-ounce rate.

These changes will take time to implement, as inventory has to be used up and nothing is ever as simple as it might appear. There is currently a paper shortage, so Mr. Lehman Lyons has his work cut out for him to get the same weight of paper that we have been using or our other efforts may be for naught. By working with Messrs. Wakefield and Ruddlesden in accounting and budgeting, it looks as though we may need to purchase a year’s supply of paper at a time to make this work.

But this kind of outside-the-box thinking is essential when finding a way or making one. Challenging our routines and habits can be rewarding mentally and materially.

The Broader Message

But what about spiritual routines and habits? What about your prayer and study routines? Do you have set routines? These vitally important Christian practices are easily crowded out by distractions if well-ingrained habits are lacking. Jesus warned us of this in one of His most famous parables. “Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22).

King David and the prophet Daniel set us an example of praying three times each day. “Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice” (Psalm 55:17). “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days” (Daniel 6:10). We may also infer from an incident in the life of Peter that he prayed daily at noon (Acts 10:9). One who takes time to pray around the noon hour likely prays at other times as well.

Incense is symbolic of prayers ascending to God’s throne (Revelation 8:3–4). Regarding our prayers, there may well be a lesson in the sacrificial system, where incense was offered morning and evening (Exodus 30:7–8). There may also be a lesson in the example of Samuel’s parents, who “rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord” before leaving on a long journey home (1 Samuel 1:19).

We know that large crowds often followed Jesus and privacy was clearly an issue in His life. So, it is significant that we read, “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed” (Mark 1:35). A single passage describing one occasion does not tell us with certainty that Jesus prayed every morning, but it is certainly reasonable to believe that this was His usual practice.

Of course, we must all work out our own salvation based on our individual circumstances. “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). Some may have work or school situations that make it impossible or impractical to find privacy for prayer during the noon hour, but we must “find a way or make one” each evening and morning.

What About the Feast?

As this is the post-Feast Living Church News issue, let us think about our Feast routines. If you have followed God’s instructions to save your second (Festival) tithe, good—don’t stop that obedient practice. But for those of you who have tithable income and do not set aside your second tithe, now is the time to repent, challenge your flawed routine, and start obeying God’s clear command to do so.

And let us not forget our first tithe. Review Malachi 3:8–10 and remember what God labels those who disobey this command. Both first and second tithe are a part of the Feast lesson to “learn to fear the Lord your God always”—to obey Him in all His commands. This is a good time to talk to God about these things.

It is easy to become settled into a Feast of Tabernacles routine. It is very exciting for the first few years, but the Feast is more than eating steaks and going to the beach. It is also about serving and helping others. Some members attend their assigned site every year so that they can provide essential service and help the coordinator make it an enjoyable Feast for all. Others virtually always transfer to indulge themselves on some new adventure. Perhaps somewhere between these two approaches is a proper balance, but no matter where one goes, it is good to review one’s approach toward service. There really is no end of ways to quietly serve at the Feast.

And There Is More

Are we stuck in other routines that we might do well to challenge? We all have many routines in our lives. Many are well thought out and the result of long-established and healthy practices. But there are no doubt routines in the lives of all of us that can be overhauled, or at least adjusted—what we eat, what time we go to bed and get up, how we use our spare time, how we spend our money. It is important to have routines, but it is also important to challenge them.

This article has already discussed habits of prayer. But when we pray is only part of our routine. How we pray and what we pray can also become too routine. It is good to review Dr. Meredith’s booklet Twelve Keys to Answered Prayer and meditate and evaluate how we might improve our prayers. Maybe meditate on what you want to pray about before beginning and make a quick outline of topics you wish to discuss with your Creator.

But there are other routines we need to evaluate. What are our goals in life? Do you want to learn a second language? Do you want to read more books? Do you need to change jobs? Do you feel the need to draw closer to God? To accomplish our goals, we may need to challenge the status quo—and if we’re going to make progress, we need to find a way or make one. We can all consider what might be a healthy use of our time, and then do what is easy to see, but hard to put into practice.

As already mentioned, the Feasts, too, can become routine for us. We can fall into the habit of turning them into vacation time rather than fulfilling their purpose: “that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always” (Deuteronomy 14:23). A good way to start is by searching for similar expressions of fearing God to find out what that means. There is a lot in Scripture on the subject.

David instructed us in Psalm 34:

“Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Who is the man who desires life, and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it” (vv. 11–14).

Then there is Psalm 115:

You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord; He is their help and their shield. The Lord has been mindful of us; He will bless us; He will bless the house of Israel; He will bless the house of Aaron. He will bless those who fear the Lord, both small and great. May the Lord give you increase more and more, you and your children. May you be blessed by the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (vv. 11–15).

Yes, God will bless us more and more as we draw closer to Him. And He expects us to be His profitable servants, as we see in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14–30). Let us resolve not to let our routines lead us into complacency as we strive to do God’s will and do our part in His Work as best as we can.