One of my mentors sets apart a special chair for personal devotions. He told me that when he goes to his study every morning to read his Bible and pray, he always does it in a chair that he reserves for that purpose.
He found that if he sat in his desk chair, his mind was distracted and pulled towards the work that he had to do that day. He could get no peace to settle on seeking the Lord for his own soul. He therefore got an armchair for his study and always uses that for the one purpose of personal devotions.
This means that when he sits in that chair every day, all the sensory cues prompt him to get into personal devotions mode. There’s no internal argument or discussion. The chair “automatically” puts him in the mood and mind for this indispensable foundation of personal spirituality and ministry faithfulness.
I’ve also found this to be true in my own spiritual life and I’ve usually had my own “personal devotions chair” (or sofa) in my study. My personal devotional life is always much better when I’m at home and in my routine, but it’s much more of a struggle when I travel or go on vacation.
I’d never fully understood this until I came across James Clear’s book Atomic Habits. He explains how “over time our habits become associated not with a single trigger but with the entire context surrounding the behavior” (87). He goes on:
“We mentally assign our habits to the locations in which they occur: the home, the office, the gym. Each location develops a connection to certain habits and routines. You establish a particular relationship with the objects on your desk, the items on your kitchen counter, the things in your bedroom.” (87)
The implication is clear; we can train ourselves to link a particular habit with a particular context.
“Habits thrive under predictable circumstances like these. Focus comes automatically when you are sitting at your work desk. Relaxation is easier when you are in a space designed for that purpose. Sleep comes quickly when it is the only thing that happens in your bedroom. If you want behaviors that are stable and predictable, you need an environment that is stable and predictable. A stable environment where everything has a place and a purpose is an environment where habits can easily form.” (90)
Let me give you an example from the ministry. The same mentor who has his “personal devotions chair” also encouraged me to think of my study as a sanctuary, as a tabernacle in which I meet with God and work for God.
As I was thinking about this again recently, I realized that, over time, I had moved away from this principle and that I was also now using my office to read the news, check social media, book vacation flights, and so on. Not like for hours and hours but even just 5-10 minutes a day (and during my break times!).
However, I feared that this had changed my mood and mindset somewhat when I was working in my study. It was no longer a place exclusively dedicated to being with God and working for God. It was no longer a tabernacle. It was now a contextual mixture of cues. I, therefore, used Covenant Eyes to block access to these sites on my work computer, and now only do these things at home, usually using my home iPad
The result was an almost immediate change in my mindset and spirituality when at work. I am not only more productive, but I believe I am closer to the Lord. When I enter my office or open my computer now, the environmental cues are all saying, “David, you are entering a tabernacle, a sanctuary, and the presence of God.” That changes me and my work.