I have always been fascinated by habits, how they happen, how to create one, how to break a habit. Sometimes we think of a habit as a good thing; of course, many of us have bad habits.
When I work with students who need to improve their communication skills, I spend some time talking about how to develop good communication habits. I explain that there are three levels of habit development: unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence and unconscious competence.
Unconscious incompetence may be a bit like what Dr. Willard expresses in his concept of communication with God. It is a time of life when the habit is ingrained and you are horrible at something and you don’t even know you are. Maybe you are a terrible listener or you have a hard time stating something without hundreds of uhs and “you knows.” Dr. Willard says that the communication stage of relationship building with God is a time when we are possibly dead to God due to our sins but He is still trying to speak to us. We may not be hearing His messages but God never gives up.
Conscious incompetence is a very awkward stage of life. You are bad at something and you know you are bad. You feel awful that you are performing so poorly and you are working to correct your flaws but you are so aware of your efforts that it is painful at times. Communion is the stage of character development where God is sharing thoughts with you and you are processing those thoughts; you are aware. You may
be aware of your sins but they are not going away quickly. Young “born again” Christians struggle with using inappropriate language at times. They know that they should clean up their expression but it is tough. Maybe they have a 30 year habit of peppering their language with a curse word and it is not going away overnight. Nevertheless, God is moving in the person who is experiencing communion. Individuals who are going through this know it.
The next stage, unconscious competence, is when a habit becomes part of a person’s life. They have worked so hard and repeated their action so much that it is natural. The behavior is no longer awkward; it flows. It is a natural part of a person’s behavior. I hate to use this but golf is a good analogy. If you know anything about the game, the golfer who swings a club thousands of times begins to develop a “groove”. That is a repeated, natural movement that is their distinctive swing. If it is effective, they want to keep it. If a golfer is good, they like their groove. Union with God is desirable too. When this occurs a person may have a natural focus on God in their life. Actions performed in daily life get evaluated on a Kingdom level. Thoughts about God occur with great frequency. It is no longer a divided life where a person may compartmentalize God in one section and compartmentalize fleshly behaviors in another. Life is about God. God rules.
Dr. Willard states “So where there was fear, there is now hope; where there was suspicion, there is now confidence; where there was hate, there is now love; and all are based on a new understanding of God conveyed to us by His word. Vessels of wrath become vessels of patience and kindness. Where there was covetousness and lust, there is now generosity and courteous consideration. Where there was manipulation and possessiveness, there is now trust toward God and encouragement of others toward liberty and individuality. We now have the character to which listening for God’s voice is natural.”
If you understand this process you will understand Galatians 2:20 “It is no longer I who live but it is Christ who lives in me”. If you understand this process, you will understand one of the most famous images that are in the Bible [ John 15 ]: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.
God will have changed your character.
You will have unconscious competence for your Lord and Savior.