Our household runs on routines. I get up in the morning, set the thermostat to 21.5 degrees Celsius, feed our pets a pre-determined amount, make the coffee, check the weather forecast, check the news headlines, record any TV shows I might want to watch later, take my prescribed medications, and check my email. We have set methods and schedules for making beds, washing clothes, housecleaning, servicing the car, taking walks, paying bills, praying, having devotional times, and so on and so on. We have figured out the most efficient way to load dishes into the dishwasher and follow the same general pattern each time.
We have a place for everything and put everything in its place—food, pots, pans, plates, glasses, cups, serving bowls, cleaning supplies, tools, paper and office supplies, books, summer clothes, winter clothes, towels and cleaning rags, and garbage and recycling bins. Every night before going to bed, we put everything away, turn down the thermostat to 18 degrees Celsius, close the drapes, and get some things ready for the morning. We have running grocery lists, lists of daily and weekly chores, and calendars with important dates.
These routines are very useful. They save time and effort and frustration. We don’t have to figure out how to carry out daily and weekly tasks or remember if we have done something that needs doing. We don’t need to look for things because we know they are in their proper place.
One of my routines is that I do not do any of my writing and editing work on Sunday. (Even though some of my Christian clients assume I will answer emails and phone calls on that day, I postpone answering the emails and tell callers to phone back the next day.) I need a day of rest and a day for undistracted worship. Another of our routines is that we go to church on Sunday. The church service is scheduled for the same time every week.
Matthew 12 tells the story of Jesus’ disciples casually plucking some heads of grain and eating them on the Sabbath. The rule-keepers said this violated the prohibition against working and harvesting grain on the Sabbath. Jesus responded that King David and his followers, when in a desperate situation, ate consecrated bread reserved for the priests. He also said that priests worked on the Sabbath by leading temple worship. Jesus’ conclusion was that He was “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8 NIV). In other words, Jesus, as God’s true high priest and heir to David’s throne, could make exceptions to the rules—especially when it came to rules created by human beings. Jesus also made a point of healing people on the Sabbath. In the same story in Mark 2, Jesus added the comment: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
(I think it necessary to add a note here so that what I am saying will not be misunderstood. It is important to understand that Jesus did not discard the idea of keeping the Sabbath. He did not discard the moral law or the truth of the Bible. What He did was allow some flexibility in the manmade rules for keeping the law, so that the law would be obeyed in spirit as well as the letter.)
Jesus also said that “New wine must be poured into new wineskins” (Luke 5:38). Life, like wine, needs containers—routines, rules, procedures, traditions, and practices that control and guide it. And those routines, rules, procedures, traditions, and practices need to be changed when life takes different directions. The wineskins are there to protect the wine and keep it from being spilled and are therefore important, but it is the wine that is paramount, not the wineskins. Without the wine, wineskins have no purpose.
Like many things, rules and routines make good servants but terrible masters. Routines need to be re-evaluated and adjusted when circumstances and needs change. When something unusual pops up, if someone urgently needs help or if a great opportunity arises, the routines can and should be dispensed with.